A few years ago, I came across a Wikipedia Page and learnt about a man named Dashrath Manjhi. His wife was injured but he couldn’t reach a hospital in time to save her as there was a 360 feet long towering mountain in the path. He mourned and there was passion in his mourning, a passion that drove him to think of breaking a mountain, let alone actually breaking it. He carved a path on the face of a mountain, using his hammer and a chisel. He did it for love. He was indeed a mountain man, a man with great perseverance and someone who deserved a great film for his portrayal.
Manjhi is essentially a love story. Firstly, between Dashrath Manjhi and his unmisted love for the girl who sells toys for a living. And secondly for the mountain that he carved for 22 long years. The mountain that stood by his side like a friend who never spoke, like a lover who never questioned his ways and like a savior who always found ways to protect him. This little story from a very remote place in Bihar is an inspiring one. It show the transformation of a madcap rat-eater to a saint. It also shows how hard-work and will-power can move mountains both in the literal and actual sense.
As the film’s tagline acknowledges Manjhi as the Mountain Man, I silently nod my head in agreement. I would also add to that and call Nawazuddin Siddiqui a mountain himself. Ketan Mehta’s Manjhi the mountain man is an ordinary film about an extraordinary man. One that needs to be seen just because of the amount of hard-work and zeal this crazy little fellow showed when a hapless incident changed his life for the worse. But when I sit down and fathom over the film’s overall emotional heft, it comes out as a lost cause. A person like Dashrath Manjhi & an actor like Nawazuddin Siddiqui, both deserved a better made film.
The main problem with Ketan’s film is the messed up screenplay. It’s completely all over the place. Important characters, played by class actors like Tigmanshu Dhulia & Prashant Narayanan come and go without actually making any bigger sense to the overall plot. What starts off as a film ‘Based’ on true incidents slowly becomes one that’s ‘inspired’ by it. Each scene feels like the work of an amateurish team. One that was so sure about the power of its story that they didn’t really pay any attention to other essential detailings.
Consider a 6 year old who was given his favorite set of colors and was never told to make something out of them. He will take all of them and start drawing a caricature that only he can truly appreciate. Ketan’s film feels like a huge canvas that wasn’t painted too well. Actors like Nawaz & Radhika Apte do make the romance feel real and playful at the same time but one cannot cancel that it’s intentionally made filmy and cheesy. There is a scene in the film where the village suffers a drought, Dashrath Manjhi doesn’t leave the side of the mountain and crawls up into the bottom of an empty well; he uses his tongue to gain whatever water he could from the walls of the well. Its moments like these which uplift this poorly executed film to a level of mediocrity. There are more than few attempts to include social-commentary on the basis of caste, status and power but they all feel shoe-horned. Like the ones where the naxalites attack the village. It’s not an entirely off-putting scene but when it doesn’t add up to the overall morale of the film, you just feel bad for the makers.
I will duly mention that this is not Nawaz’s best performance, he has done many greater works in the recent past, but he is still the best thing about this film. There are times in the film where even an actor like him hams to scenes. It can only be manipulated as a sad n poor attempt on the director’s end who wasn’t able to use his actors to their utmost potentials. But Nawaz still managed to fill me with joy to see this awe inspiring journey of a man who graduated from getting roles with less than 1 minutes of screen time to getting a whole movie to his name.
Final Verdict: Mehta’s film ignores most of the aspects of a well made cinematic experience. He has churned out a film that doesn’t understand the depth of the script and the audacity of its lead actor.